Walsh Island Aerodrome

My August 2019 article for “The Local” is now out, this month on the crash of a DC47 aircraft at the District Park aerodrome in August 1944. In researching the article I was intrigued to discover that for a brief period in the 1930s there was an aerodrome on Walsh Island, in the northern part of Newcastle Harbour.

Walsh Island no longer exists as a separate island. With extensive land reclamation over the years, it is now part of Kooragang Island. The name however is retained in Walsh Point at the southern tip of Kooragang Island.

The outline of Walsh Island as it was in 1913, superimposed over a Google Earth image.

The location of Walsh Island was originally a collection of small low islands amidst shallow sand and mud banks in the north arm of the Hunter River. Major T. S. Parrot’s 1893 map shows Goat Island and a pair of adjacent islands evocatively named the Spectacle Islands. The future shape of Walsh Island can be seen in this map in the outline of the mud flats around these small islands.

Parrott’s 1893 map shows the Spectacle Islands where Walsh Island will later be created. National Library of Australia.

In 1898 a number of harbour improvements were instigated in Newcastle by the Harbours and Rivers Department. The Daily Telegraph on 17 March 1898 reported that construction of the northern break-wall at Stockton had commenced under the direction of Mr. H. D. Walsh the resident engineer, and that …

Another work which will be put in hand almost immediately is the erection of the training wall round the mud flat in the north harbor, euphoniously called — in anticipation — Walsh’s Island.

On 28 June 1898 the Newcastle Morning Herald noted that …

The reclamation of the sand-flat known as Walsh’s Island, in the upper portion of the north harbour, is being proceeded with, and a wall is now being built up around the edges by tipping stone, at the rate of 100 tons daily.

After the formation of Walsh Island was completed, nothing was done with it. In 1906 some were arguing that it had been a mistake to put the island there, and in 1907 the J and A Brown Company were suggesting that “the best thing to do with Walsh Island was to remove it altogether.

Walsh Island and the dredge “Castor” Newcastle, NSW, 5 May 1901. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

Corporal Barrett’s map of Newcastle shows that in 1910 the southern part of Walsh Island had been constructed, but was devoid of any buildings or industry. The island is marked as being “8 feet above high water mark” and bounded on the left and right by a “low stone wall”.

Walsh Island on Barrett’s 1910 map. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

In September 1912, Mr Griffiths, the State Minister for Works, announced that a new Government Dockyards and Engineering Works would be constructed on Walsh Island. The ceremonial laying of the foundation stone for the new works was performed on 14 June 1913, and the official opening took place on Friday 27 November 1914. At that time the Dockyards and Workshops employed a 1000 men. By 1920 the workforce had expanded to 2500 skilled artisans.

The first recorded use of Walsh Island for aviation occurred on 21 August 1920, when the island had an unexpected visitor from the skies. Lieutenant Raymond Parer and Lieutenant John McIntosh were flying from Brisbane to Sydney, on one of the last legs in their epic seven month problem plagued journey from England to Australia. Facing an unexpected headwind for most of their flight down the coast, they ran low on fuel and needed to land in Newcastle. After making three attempts to land at the old Newcastle racecourse, they determined that it looked to be too bumpy, and after scouting around for other landing sites, eventually touched down on the sands of Walsh Island. They spent the night on the island resting in the home of Mr Cutler (manager of the dockyards), and resumed their journey to Sydney’s Mascot airport the next afternoon.

The impromptu landing of Parer and McIntosh directed attention to the need for “an acceptable aerodrome in this city.” Opinions were divided as to whether a new aerodrome should be situated on Walsh Island or in Broadmeadow. In October 1923 the Government gazetted 52 acres of District Park in Broadmeadow for aviation purposes. Despite the official gazetting, little was done to develop the Broadmeadow site.

On 29 January 1929, Squadron-Leader Charles Kingsford Smith landed his Southern Cross plane at District Park and spent the day inspecting areas in Newcastle suggested as aerodrome sites.

Interviewed a few minutes before his departure, the famous aviator had no hesitation in saying that he favoured Walsh Island as an aerodrome site in preference to those he had inspected at Hexham and Redhead. If an aerodrome were constructed there, a fleet of fast motor launches could be commissioned to run in conjunction with the proposed air service, and would cover the distance separating Walsh Island from the mainland in about seven minutes.

Kingsford-Smith’s endorsement carried weight, for by May 1929 an aerodrome was being constructed on the island.

Levelling dredged sand on Walsh Island, 17 May 1929. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

On 23 May 1929, Captain E. C. Johnson, superintendent of aerodromes for the Civil Aviation Department inspected the construction site, and declared that “Walsh Island is an ideal site and will make an excellent aerodrome” and “that judging by the progress made by the Works Department, in levelling the site, it would be ready within six months.” Flight Lieutenant Ulm of Australian National Airways visited Newcastle on 14 June 1929 and landed his DeHaviland Moth aircraft on Walsh Island to inspect the aerodrome preparations. The Daily Telegraph reported that ….

Lieutenant Ulm spoke in terms of the highest praise of the work already done at the aerodrome. When the service is in full operation the Australian National Airways proposes to erect a hangar at Walsh Island.

Captain Ulm after landing on Walsh Island, 14 June 1929. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

In August 1929 the Newcastle Morning Herald reported that …

The work of making ready the site for Newcastle’s aerodrome at Walsh Island is progressing satisfactorily. Three dredges are being kept busy at Walsh Island, and the material they are lifting from the river bed is being deposited on the aerodrome site. It should not be long now before the ground is ready.

A photograph in the National Library of Australia captioned as circa 1930 shows that the area planned for the Civil Aviation airfield is still under construction, with reclamation of the land from river dredging still in progress. On the middle right hand side of the photo there is wide dark straight line which I suspect may be one of the aerodrome runways under construction.

Aerial view of Walsh Island state dockyard and engineering works, Newcastle, New South Wales, ca. 1930. National Library of Australia

Two separate but adjacent airfields were proposed for the island – a smaller airfield to be used by the recently formed Newcastle Aero Club, and a larger airfield to be used for civil aviation.

Illustration from the Newcastle Sun, 15 August 1929, showing the location of the two proposed airfields on Walsh Island – the Aero Club field and the Civil Aviation field.

Although the land reclamation and levelling was performed by the Department of Works, the construction of the aerodrome was also enthusiastically and financially supported by the Government Dockyard. In August 1929, the Newcastle Aero Club in a letter to Colonel Brinsmead, Comptroller of Civil Aviation, wrote …

Dockyard authorities have been engaged assiduously in the preparation of the proposed aerodrome … Arrangements have been made for the construction by the dockyard authorities, of suitable hangar accommodation, and the dockyard is in a position to do so, and is most anxious to carry out all necessary repairs and will cooperate with the club in every way possible.

Construction of the aerodrome runways proceeded during 1929, and by late August it was reported that “one run-way has been practically completed.” A 30 November 1929 report noted that …

An aerodrome has been established on Walsh Island, embracing three runways, each 160ft wide and approximately 2500ft long, situated in the direction of the prevailing winds, enabling ‘planes to land in any direction on the site

With completion of the aerodrome imminent, Australian National Airways announced in September 1929 that …

Before 1929 has run its course, giant triple-engined ‘planes will be roaring over the aerial highway in a regular passenger service between Sydney and Brisbane, with Newcastle as an important port of call en route. Boarding the air liner at Walsh Island, Newcastle passengers booked for Sydney will land at Mascot aerodrome after an hour’s flight. The fare, probably, will be £2.

The airline’s dreams of a passenger service from Walsh Island proved to be premature. Just three months later in December 1929, their plans to use the aerodrome were in doubt …

Mr. M. C. Reid, of Newcastle, who is a director of the company [Australian National Airways], said that the area which would be available when the air service was commenced in January might not be considered sufficient to permit the giant air liners to alight and take off in perfect safety.

Despite the setback with regard to passenger traffic, the Newcastle Aero Club persisted with their plans. In March 1930, at a meeting to present their first annual report to members, the club’s committee noted that the aerodrome “is now fit to be licensed as a training ground” and that they had “asked the Civil Aviation Department to send an inspector to examine the Walsh Island Aerodrome.” Captain Burgess, NSW District Superintendent of the Civil Aviation Department, inspected both the District Park (Broadmeadow) and the Walsh Island aerodromes on 11 July 1930.

When interviewed, Captain Burgess would not commit himself, but is understood to have been of the opinion that the District Park site could be made suitable for an aerodrome if £3000 or £4000 were spent on improving it, but not otherwise; nor would the Walsh Island site be licensed unless improvements, costing at least as much, were made.

For the next two years, arguments were made for and against establishing Newcastle’s aerodrome at Walsh Island or District Park. Despite the fact that “some thousands of pounds were spent on preparatory work at Walsh Island”, the expenditure “was wasted, the site being abandoned”. The location of an aerodrome for Newcastle was effectively settled in August 1932 when the Department of Lands ruled in favour of the District Park site. The Department wrote to the chairman of the District Park Trust (Alderman Jenner) …

The matter of the establishment of an aerodrome at District Park has been given further consideration, and in view or the heavy costs to establish an aerodrome at Walsh Island as an alternative to the District Park site, it has been decided to allow the reservation [in District Park] for the joint purposes of public recreation and aviation.

The other factor in 1932 that doomed the Walsh Island aerodrome was the fate of the Government Dockyard. From the very beginning in 1929, the dockyard had been an avid supporter of the aerodrome project. Unfortunately the dockyard’s enthusiasm was not matched by the NSW Auditor-General, who in his report in December 1930 “found fault with the aerodrome expenditure without authority”, stating that …

… in my opinion, the surplus on the year’s trading was understated, by reason of certain capital expenditure, estimated by the General Manager at £5000, incurred in the preparation of an aerodrome site, having been incorrectly charged as “workshop expenses.”

This creative accounting led to personal consequences for the manager. In January 1932, with the dockyard’s profitability plummeting and a general dissatisfaction with the manager’s performance, the Government announced that …

… Mr. A. C. Waters (general manager of the State Government Dockyards at Newcastle) had received notice that his services would not be required after January 8 … Little has been made public concerning the inquiry into the administration of Walsh Island. It is understood, however, that the expenditure incurred in the attempt to create a Walsh Island aerodrome is one basis of the criticisms offered against Mr. Waters.

In the midst of the economic depression, the dockyard’s financial position became dire, and on 18 January 1933, the NSW Minister for Works (Mr Weaver) announced that the dockyards would be closed. The workforce was then progressively laid off as the remaining orders were completed. On 4 Jul 1933 it was reported that ..

The Government Dockyard at Walsh Island is at present working on its last job, and the workshop will then be closed down. Engineers who have had a look at the place recently state that it is being completely dismantled, and there is not much valuable machinery there now.

With the closure of the dockyard and engineering workshops, the island was once again practically deserted. The once grand plans of a Walsh Island aerodrome were now dead in the water. In the ensuing years there were occasional suggestions (March 1936, December 1940, May 1950) that the Walsh Island aerodrome could be be completed, but no action was taken.

In 1950 the industrial future of Walsh Island was re-launched by the State Government, with the Newcastle Morning Herald reporting on 30 March 1950 that …

The exchange of land between the Crown and the Broken Hill Pty. Co. Ltd., proposed in the bill before State Parliament, is regarded by industrialists as the first major step in the reclamation of 6500 acres of Hunter River delta islands for industrial expansion.

The reclamation of land, “requiring more than 750,000 tons of harbour silt” commenced in January 1951. Eastern Nitrogen (now Incitec) subsequently established a fertiliser production plant on the site of Walsh Island in 1968.

The re-touched photograph

An undated aerial photograph on the Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association website shows the two adjacent airfields, each with three runways arranged in a triangular pattern. Don Phillips who worked on Walsh Island in the 1940s, in an interview in the Newcastle Herald on 14 September 2018 thinks this is a ‘re-touched’ photo. I agree with him, as the runways here are too crisp and clean in comparison with the rest of the photo, and there is no evidence of any adjoining infrastructure such as roads or hangars. Also the pale colour of the runways and their perfect symmetry is in contradiction to the 1 August 1936 newspaper report that the runways had a “tarred surface” and that “the work was never completed.”

The Aero Club and Civil Aviation airfields to the north of the Government Dockyard facilities on Walsh Island. Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
17 Mar 1898"Another work which will be put in hand almost immediately is the erection of the training wall round the mud flat in the north harbor, euphoniously called - in anticipation - Walsh's Island."
28 Jun 1898"The reclamation of the sand-flat known as Walsh's Island, in the upper portion of the north harbour, is being proceeded with, and a wall is now being built up around the edges by tipping stone, at the rate of 100 tons daily."
18 Jun 1906"Ten years ago an island was built up in the North Harbour, and its usefulness has ever since been a source of discussion. There are many who hold that it was a mistake to put the island there, claiming, as they do, that there is not sufficient water accommodation."
12 Jun 1907"Mr. R. B. Hogue, manager for Messrs. J. and A, Brown, said he thought the best thing to do with Walsh Island was to remove it altogether."
21 Sep 1912Mr. Griffiith, the State Minister for Works informs the local M.P. Mr Grahame "that it had been definitely decided to establish the new Government works at Newcastle on Walsh Island."
16 Jun 1913
14 Jun 1913
"The laying of the foundation stone of the new workshops of the State Government … took place on Saturday last.
28 Nov 1914
27 Nov 1914
The official opening of the State Government Dockyards at Walsh Island.
25 Jun 1920The Prince of Wales launches the "Enoggera" at the Walsh Island dockyards, which now employs 2500 workmen.
23 Aug 1920
21 Aug 1920
Lieutenants Parer and McIntosh while on a flight from Brisbane to Sydney, elect to land on Walsh Island, after running low on fuel.
23 Aug 1920Lieutenant Parer and Lieutenant McIntosh, on one of their last legs in a seven month flight from England, are forced to land on Walsh Island. They originally made three attempts to land at the old racecourse "but no landing was effected, the reason, as Lieutenant Parer afterwards explained, being that the ground looked too bumpy, and there was risk from the fences."
23 Aug 1920"The landing of Lieutenants Parer and McIntosh at Walsh Island on Saturday directs fresh attention to the failure to provide an acceptable aerodrome site in this city. Almost every week, one or more airmen visit Newcastle, and have accustomed themselves to the inadequate accommodation to be found on the old racecourse. The City Council may reasonably be asked to seriously consider, the selection of a site which will not have to be passed over by world-famed airmen; because it Is 'too small and too bumpy.' "
30 Jan 1929
29 Jan 1929
Charles Kingsford Smoth inspects areas in Newcastle suggested as aerodrome sites. "Interviewed a few minutes before his departure, the famous aviator had no hesitation in saying that he favoured Walsh Island as an aerodrome site in preference to those he had inspected at Hexham and Redhead."
8 May 1929"Newcastle's aerodrome, under construction at Walsh Island, will be inspected next week by the supervisor of aerodromes (Captain E. C. Johnston) of the Civil Aviation Department."
23 May 1929"'Walsh Island is an ideal site and will make an excellent aerodrome,' said the superintendent of aerodromes (Captain Johnston) this afternoon, after an inspection of the 'drome there. He added that judging by the progress made by the Works Department, in levelling the site, it would be ready within six months."
14 Jun 1929"Flight-Lieutenant Ulm, accompanied by Mrs Ulm, flew from Sydney to Newcastle to-day to inspect the site of the aerodrome at Walsh Island, which is to be used in the Sydney-Brisbane air mail service."
6 Sep 1929Mr. Mark Reid, Director of Australian National Airways, Ltd announces that "before 1929 has run its course, giant triple-engined 'planes will be roaring over the aerial highway in a regular passenger service between Sydney and Brisbane, with Newcastle [Walsh Island] as an important port of call en route."
5 Dec 1929"Doubt has arisen as to whether Newcastle will be a port of call for the big triple-engined 'planes of the air mail line between Sydney and Brisbane, as was originally intended."
"Australian National Airways Ltd had planned to use the Walsh Island aerodrome as their Newcastle base ... the area which would be available when the air service was commenced in January might not be considered sufficient to permit the giant air liners to alight and take off in perfect safety."
29 Aug 1930"After months of investigation only two sites were found in Newcastle [for an aerodrome]. One was at Walsh Island and the other at District Park. The Walsh Island area has everything in its favor except that it is difficult of access. It takes only about 45 minutes to fly from Sydney to Newcastle, but it would take more than the flying time to get by launch and road from Walsh island to the city."
9 Dec 1930"The Auditor-General has some interesting observations to make concerning the Government Dockyard, Newcastle. He finds fault with the aerodrome expenditure without authority … estimated by the General Manager at £5000, incurred in the preparation of an aerodrome site, having been incorrectly charged as 'workshop expenses'."
21 Mar 1931"Several efforts have been made to establish an aerodrome at Newcastle, and there has been just as many set-backs. Some thousands of pounds were spent on preparatory work at Walsh Island, but it was wasted, the site being abandoned."
7 Jan 1932The General Manager of the Government Dockyards (Mr. A. C. Waters) dismissed. One factor in his dismissal was the unauthorised expenditure on the Walsh Island aerodrome.
18 Jan 1933The Minister for Works (Mr Weaver) announces that "when present orders are completed, within a few months time, the Government Dockyard, at Walsh Island, Newcastle, will be closed down."
19 Jan 1933"The Minister for Works (Mr. R. W. D. Weaver) stated to-night that on account of the continued financial loss in the operation of Walsh Island … that, with the exception of a small staff, which will be retained to carry out Government work, the services of all other employees will be dispensed with."
4 Jul 1933"The Government Dockyard at Walsh Island is at present working on its last job, and the workshop will then be closed down."
5 Aug 1933"The big dockyard at Walsh Island, which closed down some time ago, is being sold piecemeal. Only a workshop will be retained to handle minor repairs."
1 Aug 1936On Walsh Island … "before the engineering shops were closed, a considerable sum was spent on laying down a large area of tarred surface, which was intended for use as an aeroplane runway. The work was never completed, but it was carried so far that some time later several aeroplanes were able to make use of what surfacing had been carried out."

Drain Plane – District Park Aerodrome

Over the years, I have seen some strange things in the concrete stormwater drains that traverse our suburbs, but nothing compared to what the residents of Broadmeadow witnessed 75 years ago.

At that time, the area now occupied by Hunter Stadium and the Harness Racing Club was an aerodrome. The government had reserved the land for aviation purposes in 1923, but it was little used until the formation of the Newcastle Aero Club in 1928. In 1939, with the outbreak of world, the club’s aircraft were used by the R.A.A.F for training purposes, while a new military airfield was being constructed at Williamtown.

On 10 August 1944 Broadmeadow received an unscheduled military visitor, as the newspaper reported the following day …

Forced down in a storm, a D.C. 47 Army transport plane, with 25 men on board, skidded 200 yards on a wet runway, hurtled through a fence and then crashed into a stormwater channel at Broadmeadow aerodrome. The pilot (broken nose) and radio operator (head injuries) were the only people hurt, although all the others sustained a severe shaking.
In addition to the crew of four, the transport carried 21 members of United States bombing crews coming to Sydney on furlough. North of Newcastle the transport ran into the storm, and the pilot decided to attempt a landing at Broadmeadow. When he put down he was unable to control the plane on the wet runway. As it neared the channel, the plane slewed and it went in, nose first.

The accident was the seventh in two years involving the storm water channel, and this highlighted the unsuitability of the site as an airfield. After the war, commercial aviation commenced at Williamtown in 1947, and in 1961, the Aero Club moved to Rutherford. District Park reverted to its original purpose of public recreation, and the roar of aeroplane engines was replaced by the roar of sports fans.

The article above was first published in the August 2019 edition of The Local.

Sightseers crowd around the Douglas 47 aircraft crashed in the stormwater drain at Broadmeadow in August 1944. From the archives of the Royal Newcastle Aero Cub.
The same location, August 2019

Additional information

I have previously written two blog posts on this air accident.

Although the area on the Broadmeadow flats wasn’t officially reserved for aviation purposes until 1923, pilots were using the ground well before that time. In April 1914 the Newcastle Morning Herald reported on the aviation display of Frenchman Monsieur Guillaux …

M. Guillaux’s aeroplane arrived at Broadmeadow yesterday, and is now safely housed in the pavilion on the Show Ground, ready for to-morrow’s performance. A great many people are under the impression that a full view of this world-renowned airman’s feats will be visible from the outside, but it is announced that all the daring somersaults, upsidedown turning, looping the loop, gliding, posing, as the great eagle in mid air, will be done within the enclosure, and not high enough for outsiders to see. Monsieur Guillaux is determined to give a greater and more daring exhibition than has been his lot to perform, and more so in honour of the fact that Newcastle is the first city In Australia that he is giving a public performance in.

An area for aviation in District Park was officially gazetted on 25 May 1923. A map of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve retrieved the Historical Lands Record Viewer, shows that the aerodrome area was officially gazetted or notified on 25 May 1923.

A map of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve retrieved the Historical Lands Record Viewer, shows that the aerodrome area to the north of the storm water drain.

A map from a land sale poster in 1923 shows an area of the Broadmeadow flat marked as “Public Recreation & Aviation Grounds”. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

Although it was officially reserved for aviation in 1923, the ground seems to have been little developed and little used until October 1928 when the local councils began to discuss definite proposals for the development of an aerodrome. In October 1928 the Newcastle Aero Club was formed. Initially they used an aerodrome constructed on Walsh Island in 1929, and the club spent “thousands of pounds” constructing facilities at Walsh Island. However in October 1933, the club obtained a 14 year lease of the District Park aerodrome in Broadmeadow, and the Walsh Island aerodrome appears to have fallen into disuse.

Just weeks after the outbreak of World War 2, the Minister for Civil Aviation announced on 13 Sep 1939 that Williamtown had been decided as the site for a new military aerodrome, and that construction “would begin next week or the following week, and would be carried out as rapidly as possible.”

While the Williamtown airport was being constructed, the R.A.A.F. used the Newcastle Aero Clubs planes at the Broadmeadow aerodrome for training. The R.A.A.F. air base at Williamtown commenced operations on 15 February 1941.

R.A.A.F. Training planes at the Broadmeadow aerodrome, Newcastle Morning Herald, 28 June 1940.

During the war, the Broadmeadow aerodrome continued to be used and a number of accidents occurred during this time.

Photograph of the crashed Douglas C47 transport plane, from the Newcastle Morning Herald, 12 September 1944. New Lambton can be seen in the background.

One humorous side note to the August 1994 crash of the C47 Douglas plane, is that a life size painting of a nude girl on the plane attracted thousands of sightseers. Candice Campbell posting on her Flickr account wrote …

While looking in the store room [of the Royal Newcastle Aero Club] I found a poster with these images and a little bit of amusing info. Apparently on the nose, she had a naked pin up girl painted. After she crashed, the police came along and painted pants on the girl because they thought the public would be offended. I had a look at the image I found of the nose art after the police “attacked” it and it looks pretty funny. You have this beautiful woman, with these horrid pants on…

Towards the end of the war there were discussions whether the aerodrome at Broadmeadow should be expanded or a new aerodrome constructed at Sandgate. Neither of these eventuated, instead in 1947 the military airport at Williamtown opened to civilian traffic for charter flights. Scheduled commercial flights at Williamtown commenced on 20 February 1948.

In 1961 the Royal Newcastle Aero Club was given notice by the Department of Civil Aviation to cease operations at the field at Broadmeadow, and the club moved to Rutherford near Maitland.

In 1969 a sports ground and grandstand was constructed on the Broadmeadow aerodrome site. What is now McDonald Jones Stadium (or Hunter Stadium) was originally known as the International Sports Centre, and was officially opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 10 April 1970.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
24 Apr 1914"M. Guillaux's aeroplane arrived at Broadmeadow yesterday, and is now safely housed in the pavilion on the Show Ground, ready for to-morrow's performance."
23 Feb 1921"One of the pilots of the Orva Aviation Company will to-day and each day this week make flights from a ground opposite the Showground at Broadmeadow."
7 Feb 1922"The corner of District Park, where the Wallsend and Waratah tram lines junction, has been decided on as a suitable site for the aerodrome for Newcastle." (Note that this describes the south eastern corner of District Park, however the eventual site chosen was the north western corner.)
19 Apr 1922"Negotiations have been continued for the establishment of an aerodrome at Newcastle. The Department of Defence, Melbourne, has requested the trustees of the District Park at Broadmeadow to grant a lease of the park at the earliest possible date."
25 May 1923Gazetting of 52 acres of District Park "for public recreation and aviation purposes."
6 Jun 1925Airways Ltd advertising flights "from the Govt aerodrome, District Park, Broadmeadow."
2 Oct 1928"To discuss definite proposals for making part of District Park suitable for an aeroplane landing ground, a conference of district councils and the park's trustees is to be called by the Acting Mayor of Newcastle."
12 Oct 1928
11 Oct 1928
Inaugural meeting of the Newcastle Aero Club, held in the Newcastle Council chambers.
30 Jan 1929
29 Jan 1929
Charles Kingsford Smith, in his Southern Cross airplane, lands at the District Park aerodrome, on his visit to Newcastle to inspect potential aerodrome sites for his airline.
10 Aug 1929Construction of an aerodrome on Walsh Island is progressing. Newcastle Aero club asking permission to use the aerordrome.
25 Oct 1933Fifty two acres of District Park leased to the Newcastle Aero Club for a period of 14 years.
15 Sep 1939Military aerodrome to be sited at Williamtown, with construction work to start immediately.
28 Jun 1940"TRAINING PLANES for the R.A.A.F. Newcastle Aero Club's training planes shown assembled at the Newcastle Aerodrome. The 13 planes were photographed in front of the hangar."
11 Aug 1944
10 Aug 1944
Crash of a Douglas C47 transport plane at Broadmeadow, reported in the Newcastle Morning Herald.
11 Aug 1944
10 Aug 1944
Crash of a Douglas C47 transport plane at Broadmeadow, reported in the "News" of Adelaide.
11 Aug 1944
10 Aug 1944
"The crashing yesterday at District Park aerodrome of an American Army Douglas transport plane has given impetus to the agitation to have the aerodrome improved. In the last two years, seven planes have crashed, either on the aerodrome or through unsuccessful attempts to land there - five of them within the last nine months."
22 Aug 1944"A life-size study in color of a nude girl painted on a crashed plane at Broadmeadow aerodrome is attracting thousands of sightseers every day."
23 Apr 1945Discussion on whether the aerodrome at Broadmeadow should be enlarged, or a new aerodrome constructed at Sandgate.

Hutton Printing & Paper Co

Elder Street Lambton in the 19th century contained many businesses you would expect in a mining town, including butchers, bakers and undertakers. One business you might not expect is a printery.

Printing began in Lambton in 1887 when George Buckley borrowed money from his brother John to set up the Paragon Printing Works in a small building behind the Commercial Hotel in Grainger St. George was a colourful character, but not always astute. In 1894 he became bankrupt after a bad investment in a failed copper mine in Queensland, as well as losing considerable money gambling on horses.

Ownership of the business passed back to John Buckley, who also became licensee of the Commercial Hotel in 1895. George continued working as an employee until his sudden death in September 1896 while under investigation for fraud in his role of secretary of a local lodge. Just a few weeks before George’s death, John Buckley sold the business to James Moodie Hutton, the foreman of the printing works for many years.

A February 1897 photo showcases the business in new spacious premises on the north-west corner of Grainger and Elder Streets opposite the Commercial Hotel. The front wall spruiks “steam printing” – their modern press was speedily powered by a steam engine, not operated by hand. The side wall promoted “account books of every description kept in stock and made to order”. The accounting we do today in computer software, back then had to be laboriously handwritten on large pages printed with rows and columns, the original spreadsheets.

Hutton’s business prospered, and in 1901 he opened new premises in Hunter St, Newcastle West. The Hutton name continued to be associated with printing for much of the 20th century, with Harold Moodie Hutton operating a printery in Regent Street New Lambton for many years.

Today our streets still contain butchers, bakers and undertakers, and with the advent of computer technology, also shops to sell us equipment and supplies for printing in our homes.

George Buckley’s Paragon Printing Works, behind the Commercial Hotel in 1893. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.
Hutton’s Printing and Paper Company, Elder St, Lambton, NSW, February 1897. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.
Hutton’s printing company was on the north west corner of Elder and Grainger Streets. June 2019.
Today the site of Hutton’s printery is occupied by undertakers, and home printing solutions are sold two doors down Elder St.

The article above was first published in the July 2019 edition of The Local.

Additional information

A page from a wages account book on display at Richmond Vale Railway museum. This is an example of the kind of custom print job that Hutton’s Company would have done.

George Buckley

Although its difficult to get a handle on all the details, its reasonably clear that George Buckley’s financial management navigated murky waters.

One example is his investment in the failed Texas Copper Mining and Smelting Company in Queensland. In 1892 George and his co-investors sought to evade their liabilities by dissolving the indebted company, and the very next week formed a new debt free company with the same directors to work the same mine. The Bank of New South Wales sued over the matter, and the court found in their favour.

Another example is before becoming bankrupt, George apparently sold his business to James Moodie Hutton in September 1893. This sales appears to be a sham transaction designed to avoid his debts. The sale was concluded after being advertised just once. Despite the ‘sale’ the business continued to operate under George’s name, with George supposedly an employee. In an 1895 court hearing John William Buckley “agreed to hand over the printing and stationery business (to the receiver) as it stood, without any admission as to the bona-fides of the bill of sale.” (George’s brother John appears to be not much better in financial integrity, having to be taken to court for unpaid debts in 1896. )

The most damning indication of George’s financial irregularities comes from the report of his death on 3 September 1896.

For upwards of 20 years held the position of district secretary of the Grand United Order of Oddfellows – a position he held at the time of his death. For some time past, however, the officers of the lodge noticed that the secretary was conducting his business in rather a loose manner, and about six weeks ago it was decided that his accounts should be professionally audited. This audit has been going on for the past six weeks, two professional accountants from Sydney having been engaged in the work the whole time. On Saturday last Buckley was approached by these gentlemen and asked to produce certain documents, to wit, the receipts from the relatives of those who were supposed to have received funeral donations, and the certificates of burials in connection with the same. Buckley explained that he did not have any of these documents in his possession, as it was customary as soon as the quarterly audits were completed to destroy the papers, the district lodge not having any more use of them. This reply astonished the accountants, and they renewed their efforts to sift the matter of the funeral donations to the very bottom. The result of their inspection of the secretary’s accounts was, it is understood, that irregularities running into four figures were discovered. It is also understood, from official statements made, that Buckley within the past two years had drawn from the lodge funds funeral donations, amounting to £30 each, for men who had never been connected with any lodge. The accountants reported their discovery to the head of the lodge, and a special meeting of the different lodges had been convened for Saturday evening next, at which the Grand Lodge officers from Sydney intended to be present for the purpose, of hearing what Buckley had to say regarding his accounts, he having been specially summoned to attend. It is understood that the audit has not yet been completed, and the leading officials are afraid that unpleasant discoveries will be made before, the work of the auditors is completed.

Despite his obvious failings, in a case of either not being aware of the facts, or not wishing to speak ill of the dead, the report still manages to describe George as “one who was esteemed and respected by everybody who had the pleasure of his acquaintance”!

Hutton Printing

Although the sale of the printing business to James Moodie Hutton in September 1893 appears to have been a sham, the sale in July 1896 was genuine. Within a few months after George Buckley’s death, Hutton had the building housing his printing press freshly painted with his name and advertising his wares. In December 1896 he was advertising Christmas cards, and in March 1897 looking to hire more employees.

The front wall of Hutton’s premises in February 1897, advertising “Steam Printing”.

At some stage James Hutton’s wife Emily (sometimes spelled Emilie) opened a “Stationery and Fancy Goods” shop further down Elder St. Its not clear why this business was opened under her name rather than her husband’s name.

James Hutton’s wife Emilie operated a Stationery and Fancy Goods shop in Elder St Lambton. Photo by Ralph Snowball. Newcastle Region Library.

I have no definite evidence as to when Hutton’s printing press ceased in Lambton. My guess is that it was 1901. The first mention I can find of his new premises in Hunter St Newcastle is from May 1901, just one month after he advertised the sale of a “Vertical Tangye Engine and Boiler” from his Lambton establishment in April 1901. Presumably this was the engine and boiler that powered his “steam printing”, and that the sale was due to moving his business from Lambton to Hunter St Newcastle.

Premises of James Hutton, Stationer and Printer, 1903. Newcastle Region Library.

Although I haven’t found any definitive corroboration, I assume that Harold Moodie Hutton who was a printer in Regent St New Lambton, was the son of James Moodie Hutton.

As recently as 2015, the name of H. M. Hutton was visible on premises in Regent St New Lambton. Google Street View historical images.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
22 Aug 1887James Moodie Hutton was no stranger to banckrupty. His company of "Hamilton and Hutton Printers", a partnership with Alfred George Hamilton, was decared insolvent in 1887.
8 Mar 1889
5 Mar 1889
At a Lambton Council meeting, "the tender of Mr. G. Buckley for printing was accepted". This is the first mention in the newspaper of George Buckley operating as a printer in Lambton.
9 Feb 1891George Buckley unsuccessfully stands for election to Lambton Council.
24 Feb 1891George Buckley divorces his wife.
18 May 1891Advertisement - "WANTED, a BOY, to learn the printing business; one used to the trade preferred. GEO. BUCKLEY, Paragon Printing Works, Lambton."
19 Sep 1893Auction on the premises in Grainger St - "HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE & EFFECTS, Stock-in-Trade of a Printer, including Printing Machines, &c."
11 Jan 1894Auction sale of Commercial Hotel and "W.B. Building, used as a Printing Office; also, W.B. Building, used as a dwellinghouse, erected upon land having a frontage of 57ft to Grainger-street, and a depth of 50ft, now in the occupation of Mr. Geo. Buckley."
5 Apr 1894Court case - Bank of New South Wales v directors/guarantors (including George Buckley) of the Texas Copper Mining and Smelting Company.
12 Oct 1894"The Bankruptcy of a Printer. A Special Examination." Reporting from the court regarding the bankruptcy of George Buckley's printing company.
28 Feb 1895At a Lambton Council meeting, a tender for printing was accepted from "G. Buckley and Co."
30 Jul 1895Bankruptcy court ..."Mr. Lamb informed the Court that his client, John William Buckley, had agreed to hand over the printing and stationery business as it stood, without any admission as to the bona-fides of the bill of sale. "
26 Sep 1895Supreme Court of NSW, Bankruptcy notice to creditors - "GEORGE BUCKLEY, of Lambton (No. 8499), a second account and first plan of distribution showing payment of a dividend of 4s 11 15-16d in the £ on proved concurrent debt."
29 Oct 1895"TRANSFER Of the Commercial Hotel, Lambton, from Joseph W Oldham to John W Buckley."
4 Sep 1896
3 Sep 1896
George Buckley dies in the Commercial Hotel after shooting himself with a revolver. Its highly probable that the shooting was intentional and related to an investigation into George's handling of finances in his role of secretary of the Grand United Order of Oddfellows. He was due to appear before a special meeting of the Lodge the following Saturday.
5 Sep 1896
4 Sep 1896
Inquest into the death of George Buckley.
21 Oct 1896Lambton Petty Debts Court. "T. S. Jones summoned John W. Buckley and Jane Rutley for the sum of £7, being 2 per cent. Commission for the selling of their printing business in July last."
5 Dec 1896Advertisement: "CHRISTMAS Presents.-- Christmas and Birthday Cards, splendid assortment. Hutton Printing and Paper Co., Lambton."
23 Mar 1897Advertisement: "WANTED, LAD, accustomed to Book-binding and Paper-ruling. Hutton Printing and Paper Co., Lambton"
10 Apr 1897Jane Buckley (widow of George) is now the licensee of the Commercial Hotel.
26 Dec 1898
24 Dec 1898
Death of Clarissa, infant daughter of James and Emily Hutton.
11 Apr 1901"FOR Sale, cheap, 3 h.p. Vertical Tangye Engine and Boiler, good order, Hutton Printing Coy, Lambton."
18 May 1901Job vacancy for "2 Smart Boys" at Hutton Printing Company, 102 Hunter Street West. (Note that Hunter Street has been re-numbered since this time.)
6 Feb 1907For Sale: "A LARGE Corner Allotment of Land, Regent-st. and Portland-place, New Lambton. Splendid business site. Apply J. M. HUTTON, Printer, Newcastle, or Lambton."
9 Mar 1916"James L. Hutton, manager for Mrs. E. Hutton, printer, of Lambton"
31 Oct 1922Advertisement: "WANT, smart Girl, one used to trade preferred. H. Hutton, Printer, New Lambton."
24 Feb 1923
8 Feb 1923
Marriage of Emilie (Topsy), second daughter of James M Hutton of Newcastle.
2 Jul 1925
1 Jul 1925
At a New Lambton council meeting, a letter received from "J. Hutton, printer, Regent-street, complaining of not having a fair share of the printing needed by the council." "The clerk stated that the writer was, and had been, receiving a fair deal for the last four years, and quoted figures to prove that such was the case."
24 Aug 1939 For the Children's Hospital appea', "Mr. H. M. Hutton, printer, of New Lambton, has agreed to do all printing required in the campaign, free of charge."
27 Jan 1945"Harold Moodie Hutton, 54, printer, was charged with having, at New Lambton on Thursday, published a document purporting to contain a list of horses nominated for the Australia Day Handicap, Anniversary Handicap and Phillip Handicap, to be run at Randwick racecourse, such list not having been approved by the Australian Jockey Club.
23 Jan 1951"Printers outside the city area said they were losing up to four hours a day because of power failures. Mr. H. M. Hutton, printer, of New Lambton, said he lost up to three hours a day when blackouts allowed the metal in the pots of his linotypes to grow cold."

Common People

My June article for The Local is out now, this month on the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve, also known as the Commonage. Coinciding with this article, I’ve finally completed a task that I’ve been working on for some time, which is to compile a list of all the people who applied to purchase allotments after the passing of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve Act in 1889. The list of names comes from the 41 days of Land Court hearings held in 1890 to adjudicate on the applications. The list of names is available either in Excel Online or as a PDF.

There is a two part map that shows the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve with the lot numbers as mentioned in the land court hearings. Click on the thumbnail images below to view the map.

Sheet 1

Sheet 2

Steaming along

After years of intending to go, I finally visited Richmond Vale Railway Museum yesterday. On the short trip on the steam train I was standing at the rear door of the passenger carriage. It was the the perfect position to take a time lapse video of the return journey as the steam engine pushed the carriage back up the hill.

The Commonage

This month marks 130 years since one of the most important events in the economic development of Newcastle, when an act of parliament released a large tract of land from a longstanding legal limbo. The Newcastle Pasturage Reserve, also known as the Commonage, consisted of 1600 acres stretching from Waratah to Adamstown. Summarising its history in 1889, the Sydney Morning Herald noted that

“The Newcastle Pasturage Reserve was marked out in 1850 for the purpose of affording a run for stock which were then being shipped to New Zealand. The immediate purpose of it passed away, but the reserve remained. On it were valuable coal seams, and after the passing of the Land Act of 1861 the land inside its boundaries was mostly leased for mining purposes. The opening of the mines drew a large number of miners to the district, many of them without much money, and they began to put up rough shelter for themselves on the reserve, close to their work. There was nobody to forbid them, or to levy any rent. The quality of the houses put up was very inferior, because as they knew they had no title the men naturally did not care to spend too much.”

In 1871 the 300 residents of the Commonage lobbied the government to obtain legal title. For the next eighteen years, governments alternately promised and procrastinated, until finally in June 1889 the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve Act was passed. This gave the residents (now numbering 5000) the right to purchase the land they lived on, and allowed the remaining land to be sold or reserved for public use. Sittings of the Land Court in 1890 set purchase prices, and although residents grumbled they were too high, most took the opportunity to become landowners instead of squatters.

The legal certainty of land title granted by the Act was an essential step that enabled the development of housing, commerce, industry and recreational facilities in the heart of Newcastle, worth billions of dollars today.

The article above was first published in the June 2019 edition of The Local.

The area of the Commonage includes parts of ten different modern suburbs. Google Earth.
A legacy of the 1889 Newcastle Pasturage Reserve Act is the many sporting fields and parks in the heart of the suburbs.

Additional information

In the published article I quoted a small section of a Sydney Morning Herald article from 10 June 1889 which contained a good summary of the history of the Commonage. Here’s the article in full.

The Newcastle Pasturage Reserve was marked out in 1850 for the purpose of affording a run for stock which were then being shipped to New Zealand. The immediate purpose of it passed away, but the reserve remained. On it and cIose around it were valuable coal seams, and after the passing of the Land Act of 1861 the land inside its boundaries was mostly leased for mining purpose, and the land adjoining was conditionally purchased, The opening of the mines draw a large number of miners to the district, many of them without much money to start afresh in the world, and they began to put up rough shelter for themselves on the reserve, as a cheaper arrangement than going into lodgings, or buying an allotment and building. And, indeed, there seems to have been no superabundant supply of township land convenient for their purpose, even if they had been able to buy and build. The common was the most convenient spot for their purpose, and was close to their work. There was nobody to forbid them, or to levy any rent, and one trespass encouraged another. At the same time, the quality of the houses put up was very inferior, because as they knew they had no title the men naturally did not care to spend too much. The houses and rooms are stated to be very small, and many of them overcrowded, but the tenements seem to have been on separate allotments, and being thus detached have fortunately good ventilation.

When the trespassers had come to number three hundred, they felt themselves strong enough to approach the Minister and ask for a favourable consideration of their position. This was as far back as 1871, and Mr. John Bowie Wilson, who was then in charge of the Department, is said to have given the deputation a favourable answer. There is, however, no official record of the promise, and nothing was done. This was the beginning of a long series of deputations, and a series of promises, all of which were destined to be broken, for during eighteen years Minister after Minister has intended to deal with the matter, but has had to leave office before being able to do so. The bill that is now before Parliament is the first that has actually been prepared, the other departmental action having been only to survey the ground. These surveys, however, have been valuable preparatory work, because it appears from them that, with the exception of a few cases in which houses will have to be shifted off the main roads, it will be possible to give every existing occupier about a quarter of an acre, and the balance of the land may be reserved or sold as may be most expedient.

The promises of successive Ministers since Mr. J. B. Wilson first gave encouragement to the trespassers in 1871 seem to have acted like a charm. Every time a deputation went up to the Minister and came back again with an assurance that a bill would be introduced to give some sort of a title, the process of occupation proceeded merrily ; so that while in Mr. Wilson’s time there were only three hundred trespassers to be dealt with, there are now more than a thousand, while the whole population, including women and children, is nearly five thousand. If Mr. Wilson, when giving the first promise, had at the same time sent up a bailiff to see that there was no more trespassing, and had begun to levy a fair rental on the then occupiers of the said ground, the mischief would have been arrested at its then magnitude ; but the first Minister to do anything more than promise was Mr. GARRETT. He issued three writs of intrusion for the sake of asserting the Crown title, and he appointed a bailiff, and so for the last two or three years there has been no increase in the number of trespassers. The Select Committee having to deal with things, not as they ought to have been, but with things as they are, has considered the best course to pursue. At different times there have been different proposals. One Minister thought of giving trespassers annual leases; another proposed to sell the land by auction, securing to the occupier the value of his improvements ; and another to sell the land at an estimated value, and this last is Mr. Brunker’s plan. The committee report that they have considered all three schemes, and have finally decided to support that proposed in the bill. The eviction of so large a number of people is out of the question, especially in the light of so many Ministerial promises that they should be secured in their holdings. To lease the land would not give an adequate stimulus to improvement in the style of tenement, and that seems to have been very much wanted ; and at the whole of the common is not wanted for a reserve, there is no objection to selling, provided the Crown gets a fair price. The conclusion arrived at, therefore, seems to be the best under the circumstances. The trespassers, of course, have not a scrap of legal title ; and, as some of them have been there for more than twenty years without paying any rent, they have had the full value of their improvements. Still, there they are, and they have been encouraged to go there by the neglect of the Government, and to stay there by the promises of the Government, and under the circumstances a compromise must be arrived at. The value of the land will have to be determined by the local land board, but the evidence goes to show that the land is now worth from a hundred to five hundred pounds an acre, so that the Crown will, at any rate, get a revenue from the sale, and will, in fact, get more than if the land had been sold prior to its occupation. The people, by settling on the land and making a township of it, have given a value to the land which it did not previously possess. After all the claimants have been satisfied, there will still be a good deal available for auction, and an adequate amount left for public reserves.

Because there was some doubt as to whether the commonage area had been formally gazetted back in 1850 when it was first set aside by the government, the area was formally reproclaimed in the Crown Lands Alienation Act, published in the Government Gazette of 24 December 1861.

1888 map showing the area of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve with green borders. Note the date of 24 December 1861, being the date of the Crown Lands Alienation Act.

Some 60 years after the creation of the Pasturage Reserve, a short Newcastle Morning Herald article on 16 November 1910 indicated that the genesis of the reserve was in 1849.

The large area of ground known as the Pasturage Reserve, stretching from a point to the south-east of New Lambton well up into the Waratah municipality, was set apart about 60 years ago, for the purpose of enabling the residents of Newcastle to depasture cows thereon. The first reference to the matter of making the reserve is contained in a letter from Horace Charlton, local surveyor, to the bench of magistrates, at Newcastle, on 21st December 1849: – “Gentlemen – Having received instructions from the Surveyor-General, by his letter dated February 8th, 1849, No. 49/61, to consult the magistrates and other well-informed inhabitants of Newcastle as to the propriety of making a reserve for depasturing the townspeople’s milch cows, I forward herewith a map of all the lands in the vicinity of that city, and shall feel obliged by receiving your opinion as to which of the lands still vacant beyond Throsby’s Creek will be most suitable for such a purpose.

The Land Court

In July to September of 1890 the government held 41 days of sittings of the Land Court, to adjudicate on applications from Commonage residents to purchase their allotments. The court either allowed or disallowed applicants to purchase based on the nature of the improvements they had made on the land. Occasionally there were multiple applicants for the same portion of land, and the court had to decide which (if any) applicant would be successful. For successful applicants, the court then set a purchase price, based on evidence provided by valuers, and occasionally calling witnesses to testify.

The outcome of the land court sittings were published in the newspaper each day. They provide an interesting snapshot of the residents of the Commonage in 1890, with incidental details of the nature of various businesses and enterprises conducted in the area at the time. I have compiled a list of all the names of people who were applicants in the land court hearings. The list is available in Excel Online or as a PDF.

The Historical Land Records Viewer has a two part map that shows the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve with the lot numbers as mentioned in the land court hearings. An excerpt of the map is shown below.

Note that this map is a seventh edition dated 18 August 1976, with later additions up to January 1978. Although this is nearly 90 years after the Commonage allotments were mapped out, I have provided a link to this map rather than an older one because the lot numbers are the same as in 1890 and are easier to read in this ‘modern’ rendering of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve map.

Click on the images below to view the full map details.

Newcastle Pasturage Reserve Map – Sheet 1
Newcastle Pasturage Reserve Map – Sheet 2
Day Date Occurred Date reported
1 7/7/1890 8/7/1890
2 8/7/1890 9/7/1890
3 9/7/1890 10/7/1890
4 11/7/1890 12/7/1890
5 18/7/1890 19/7/1890
6 19/7/1890 21/7/1890
7 21/7/1890 22/7/1890
8 22/7/1890 23/7/1890
9 23/7/1890 24/7/1890
10 24/7/1890 25/7/1890
11 28/7/1890 29/7/1890
12 29/7/1890 30/7/1890
13 30/7/1890 31/7/1890
14 31/7/1890 1/8/1890
15 4/8/1890 5/8/1890
16 5/8/1890 6/8/1890
17 6/8/1890 7/8/1890
18 7/8/1890 8/8/1890
19 8/8/1890 9/8/1890
20 11/8/1890 12/8/1890
21 12/8/1890 13/8/1890
22 13/8/1890 14/8/1890
23 14/8/1890 15/8/1890
24 15/8/1890 16/8/1890
25 18/8/1890 19/8/1890
26 19/8/1890 20/8/1890
27 20/8/1890 21/8/1890
28 21/8/1890 22/8/1890
29 22/8/1890 23/8/1890
30 25/8/1890 26/8/1890
31 26/8/1890 27/8/1890
32 27/8/1890 28/8/1890
33 28/8/1890 29/8/1890
34 29/8/1890 30/8/1890
35 1/9/1890 3/9/1890
36 2/9/1890 Day 36/37 reported together
37 3/9/1890 5/9/1890
38 4/9/1890 Day 38/39 reported together
39 5/9/1890 6/9/1890
40 8/9/1890 9/9/1890
41 9/9/1890 10/10/1890

Post 1890

Most people residing on the commonage prior to the passing of the Pasturage Reserve Act in 1889 took up the option of purchasing. Although the expectation was that this was a good investment and that land values would increase, depressed economic times meant that many people had trouble paying for their land in the time allotted. A report in September 1895 described the problem.

The occupiers were allowed to purchase their holdings by auction, the price being made payable by instalments. Since that time another short Act has been passed for the purpose of facilitating the purchases and promoting the objects of the original Act. But since the passing of the second Act a very serious change has come over the coal-mining industry in this quarter. Wages have gone down, work has become lamentably slack, the outside municipalities are generally staggering under burdens of debt, and serious shrinkages of values have taken place almost everywhere. Many of the people have had within the last two years hard work to keep soul and body together, without at all thinking as to how the instalments on their holdings are to be paid to the Government.

The Government in 1895 thus passed an amendment to the Pasturage Reserve Act to provide purchasers with more lenient repayment terms. As the newspaper report noted …

People are now beginning to discover that large tracts of land are next to useless without inhabitants, and that it is good policy to make the conditions of settlement so easy that the poorest person, if desirous of earning an honest livelihood, can fulfil them.

Land values remained depressed in the Commonage area for many years. Charles Baker of Waratah, writing to the newspaper in June 1906 complained that …

The land was never at any time worth the Government prices put upon. it. The effect of that mistake was that almost every resident became victims to departmental overvaluation. To-day probably 700 to 800 of these original residents have become dispossessed of their holdings from various causes, but chiefly owing to the price charged being beyond their means.

A newspaper report the following month in July 1906 stated that …

As regards land values, they have certainly depreciated from 15 to 25 per cent during the last ten years. This is due to three causes – depression in the mining industry, the cessation of Lambton, Waratah, Burwood, and other large collieries, which are worked out, and no longer give employment, and the opening and development of the Maitland coalfields, which have attracted large number of miners and business people from these suburbs.

Despite this temporary setback, the land eventually appreciated in value. In April 1921 it was reported that …

The unsold allotments in the Newcastle pasturage reserve, which a few years ago was regarded as little value, are being taken up, and in some instances the purchase has exceeded the upset [reserve] prices. Inquiries are being made almost daily from applicants desirous of purchasing land in the locality.

Current Value of the Commonage Area

In the published article I stated that the passing of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve Act in 1889 “enabled the development of housing, commerce, industry and recreational facilities in the heart of Newcastle, worth billions of dollars today.”

I have no qualifications in geo-econometric modelling, so exactly how many billions of dollars the Commonage area is now worth, is difficult to say. However one piece of hard data that can help answer this question is the land value of residential property. The Valuer General of NSW has made available land values via the NSW Globe KML from Spatial Services.

Looking at a small section of residential housing in the middle of the Commonage area adjacent to Turton Rd New Lambton, there are 88 properties over 11 acres valued at a total of 39.5 million dollars. This averages out to 3.6 million dollars per acre.

The Commonage covered approximately 1600 acres, and about half that area is now used for residential purposes. In residential areas, the streets comprise about 15%, so the area of land of the actual residences will be about 680 acres. Therefore the total land value of residences will be approximately 680 x 3.6 million, which is 2.4 billion dollars.

About half of the 1600 acres of the Commonage is now used for residential purposes (shaded blue).

Note that this estimate of 2.4 billion dollars is just the land value of residences, and doesn’t include the value of buildings, or of industrial land and facilities, public reserves, streets or other infrastructure. Including all these probably puts the value of the Commonage area today into the tens of billions of dollars.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
4 Nov 1857Brief mention of the Commonage Reserve in connection with discussions on the proposed Newcastle Municipality.
25 Oct 1860“Mr. ROBERTSON said that no portion of the surface land referred to had been leased to any one, but permission had been given some years ago to Messrs. Morehead and Young to work the coal on the land before the reserve was made, and that permission had afterwards been transferred to the A. A. Co. It was clear that the Municipal Council of Newcastle could have no claim to the coal. The land was given to them for grazing purposes, and was still at their disposal for commonage."
24 Dec 1861Proclamation in the Government Gazette of "The Crown Lands Alienation Act, 1961". As there was uncertainty about whether the Newcastle Commonage had been formally proclaimed back in 1850, this Act reproclaimed the commonage area as being excluded from conditional sale.
1 Jun 1865Public meeting on the issue of reserves, at which it is bemoaned that Newcastle Council had not been granted title to the surface of the commonage area, whilst under the surface the state government had leased out the mining rights to coal companies at a measly rate of £2 per acre.
2 Sep 1871Public meeting of the Commonage residents, held at Griffiths Flat.
21 Sep 1871
20 Sep 1871
Public meeting of the Commonage residents, held at Griffiths Flat, reporting on the deputation sent to the Minister for Lands.
20 Nov 1873The name 'Newcastle Pasturage Reserve' first appears in the newspapers, in an article about the nuisance of goats roaming the streets … "We see no reason why these useful animals should be denied the right of pasturage on the public reserves. The 2000 acres usually designated Newcastle Pasturage Reserve, was intended by the Government for this very purpose."
29 Sep 1874“Urged by deputation after deputation, the Government consented to survey and value the Commonage, and put it up for sale by auction. Accordingly Surveyor Evans surveyed the Common into allotments, and made a valuation thereof. The persons resident thereon were much elated by this proceeding, and thought that they would be able to purchase the land on which they dwelt, but their joy was not of long duration, as since the survey and valuation nothing towards a final disposal of the allotments has been done.”
22 Sep 1875“The influx of strangers into this part of the district is creating a great demand for houses, which are not to be obtained at any price. Several very substantial houses are at present being built on the Commonage. It is fortunate for poor people that they have the Commonage to build upon, as the high price of land in the township takes it completely out of their reach.”
26 Mar 1885Waratah Council meeting discusses the Commage … “Alderman CHAPMAN said the Mayor was in error with reference to the trustees been appointed for the Commonage. It was only proclaimed in a Government Gazette as the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve. The MAYOR said he had been informed by a very good authority on the history of Newcastle. Alderman TURTON said that the late Mr. James Hannell, when member for Newcastle, was asked to nominate trustees. He did so, but they were never officially appointed.”
1 Aug 1885"Last Saturday the Minister for Lands visited Newcastle with the view of making himself acquainted with the circumstances attending the settlement of a large number of people on the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve, better known as the Common. This reserve is situated about four miles distant from the city, in the vicinity of Adamstown Hamilton, Waratah, and Old and New Lambton. It comprises an area of 2000 acres, and is settled on by 800 families, representing an estimated population of 4000 souls."
15 Dec 1888Mr Brunker introduces a bill to the Legislative Assembly to deal with the Commonage question. "Petitions were forwarded and deputations waited upon Ministers year after year, but with little success ... One Minister after another shrunk from solving this problem, and it appears to have remained for Mr. BRUNKER to make a final effort to do so."
23 Apr 1889"It is about time that the residents on the Commonage began to take an earnest and intelligent interest in the question of the legalisation of their unauthorised occupation of portions of the public estate."
24 Apr 1889A meeting of the Commonage residents held in Lambton Park, where "it was decided to appoint Mr. Melville to represent the interests of the commoners before the select committee of the Legislative Council."
27 Apr 1889A history of the Commonage as presented by the residents of the common in the lead up to the passing of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve Bill later that year.
10 Jun 1889A report on the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve Bill contains a good summary of the history of the commonage.
22 Jun 1889
21 Jun 1889
"PARLIAMENT. FRIDAY, JUNE 21, 1889. LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY. The Speaker announced the assent of the Governor to the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve Bill."
24 Jun 1889
22 Jun 1889
Meeting of the Commonage residents near the New Lambton bridge. "Mr. MELVILLE said he had felt that, seeing the Commonage bill had been passed, it was now his duty to come up and explain the position of the residents."
18 Jul 1889“The history of the Commonage, as told by Mr. GEORGE LEWIS to the Select Committee on the bill, shows that prior to 1861 the land was shown on the maps as a reserve for the purpose of depasturing cattle prior to their shipment for New Zealand and elsewhere. The boundaries were clearly defined and charted, and have never been questioned. It is yet a moot point whether the land was formally dedicated by the Government as a reserve.”
3 Nov 1894"The Minister for Lands was urged, the other day, by a deputation to have a reappraisement of the holdings on the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve, or to grant a reduction or rebate of 25 per cent, of the appraised value, or to waive the claim for for interest on the deferred payments."
28 Feb 1895"A MEETING of Commonage residents was held at the Premier Hotel, Broadmeadow, on Friday evening, to receive the report of the deputation which waited on the Minister for Lands, asking for a proportionate reduction in the appraised values of their respective holdings."
21 Sep 1895A bill introduced to Parliament to amend the Pasturage Reserve Act to provide more lenient repayment terms.
10 Jul 1906"from recent estimates by the police and local council clerks, the settled population on the pasturage reserve is between 7000 and 8000 ... the total area of the reserve is about 1600 acres; it was subdivided into about 2500 portions of which number only 585 remain vacant... As regards land values, they have certainly depreciated from 15 to 25 per cent during the last ten years."
16 Nov 1910"The first reference to the matter of making the reserve is contained in a letter from Horace Charlton, local surveyor, to the bench of magistrates, at Newcastle, on 21st December 1849."
18 Apr 1921"The unsold allotments in the Newcastle pasturage reserve, which a few years ago was regarded as little value, are being taken up, and in some instances the purchase has exceeded the upset [reserve] prices. Inquiries are being made almost daily from applicants desirous of purchasing land in the locality"

Lizotte’s building

My article for the May 2019 edition of The Local is out. This month I clear up two errors that have appeared in a number of history books regarding the Coronation Hall (now Lizotte’s) in Morehead Street Lambton.

Error The truth
The Coronation Hall was built in 1910, the year George V became king. The Coronation Hall was built in 1911, the year of the coronation of King George V.
The Coronation Hall was built on the site of the Criterion Skating Rink/Star Theatre.

The Criterion Skating Rink was built on the south-west corner of Morehead and De Vitre Streets in 1888. In 1892 it became the Star Theatre.

The Coronation Hall was built on the corner of Morehead and Kendall Streets.

Clearing up the halls

In the days before fast and reliable transport, entertainment was a necessarily a local affair, and Lambton had a multitude of halls.  This month I clear up misconceptions about two of Lambton’s venues.

In the 1880s roller-skating was wildly popular, and in August 1888, Nathaniel Elliott opened the Criterion Skating Rink in Morehead St. As well as skating, the building was used for social and community events, including the banquet to celebrate the opening of the electric light scheme in 1890. The skating craze soon waned, and Elliott installed a stage and re-opened his rink as the Star Theatre on 3 May 1892.

For the next nine years the theatre was regularly used for dramas, concerts, political meetings, exhibitions and lectures. From 1901 it fell in to disuse and by 1906 was described as “dilapidated”, and Lambton Council called for the owner to make repairs. The theatre was demolished and a new building erected in 1909.

Two years later in May 1911, the proprietor of the Northumberland Hotel, George Smith, invited tenders for “the erection and completion of large brick hall in Morehead St.” His building opened in December 1911 as the Coronation Hall, in honour of King George V. The building later became Kings Theatre and is now Lizotte’s. Because George V became king in 1910 on the death of his father, the hall is often erroneously dated to that year. However, the coronation ceremony took place the following year on 22 June 1911.

In the 1920s roller-skating had a resurgence, and the hall was briefly known as the “Coronation Skating Rink”. The similarity of name with the “Criterion Skating Rink” of 1888 led to some confusion, with some books incorrectly stating that the Criterion Rink/Star Theatre was located on the corner of Morehead and Kendall Streets.  However, contemporary newspaper reports and a Hunter Water Board map from the 1890s make it clear that the Star Theatre was located on the south-west corner of De Vitre and Morehead Streets.

1890s Hunter Water Board map showing the Criterion Skating Rink/Star Theatre (1888-1909) on the southwest corner of De Vitre and Morehead St, Lambton. Newcastle Region Library.
The Coronation Hall (now Lizottte’s), corner of Kendall and Morehead St, Lambton, erected in 1911. Photo from April 2019.

The article above was first published in the May 2019 edition of The Local.

Clearing up the confusion

I’m not sure when or where the conflation of the Coronation Hall with the Criterion Skating Rink began, but I was introduced to it when I first started researching and writing on Lambton’s history in 2015. Although a number of modern sources stated that the Coronation Hall was built on the site of the Criterion Skating Rink I could find no early evidence for this. Over the next few years I kept expecting that at some time I’d stumble across something to confirm the location, but nothing turned up. In 2018 I found a couple of newspaper articles that were suggestive that the Star Theatre was NOT on the corner of Kendall and Morehead St, but not definitive.

By 2019 I was also increasingly frustrated with the conflicting dates reported for the construction of the Coronation Hall, so I made a concerted effort to pin down the dates and locations of the Criterion Skating Rink/Star Theatre/Coronation Hall. A key component in this investigation was to compile a spreadsheet of references to newspaper articles that referred to these venues. As clues to the location/dates of the venues emerged, I overlaid key information into Google Earth.

I was eventually able to confirm the location of the Star Theatre with the following information:

  • A 3 May 1892 article makes it clear that the Criterion Skating Rink became the Star Theatre.
  • A 24 January 1889 article states that the skating rink was on De Vitre St.
  • A advertisement from 18 February 1903 indicates that the Star Theatre was near the corner of Morehead and De Vitre Streets.
  • A couple of articles about footpath and kerb maintenance (23 November 1893 and 21 June 1894) indicate that the Star Theatre was on Morehead St, probably on the west side.

The evidence thus far points strongly to the theatre being on one of the corners of De Vitre and Morehead St, but which of the four corners?

  • The advertisement from 18 February 1903 is for a house and property on one of the corners. By comparing the dimensions of the blocks of land with property boundaries available from the NSW Globe KML I could determine that the land for sale was on the north-west corner.
  • The north-east corner was ruled out as maps were clear that it was part of the block of land allocated for the Post and Telegraph Office.
  • The south-east corner was a promising possibility. To this day there is a hall standing on this location (now a private residence). Could this hall have been the Star Theatre? However newspaper articles and photos from Newcastle Library Photobank make it clear that this hall was the Masonic hall, constructed in August 1906, prior to council calling on the owners of the Star Theatre to make repairs in September 1906.

By a process of elimination, the Star Theatre must have been located on the south-west corner. Having come to this conclusion, shortly afterwards Julie Keating provided me with confirming evidence by pointing me to the 1890s Water Board maps, which showed a theatre on that location, just as I had deduced it should be.

Regarding the Coronation Hall, references to that name only started appearing in the newspapers in late 1911. But there was some doubt as to whether that was because it was newly erected building, or the renaming of an existing building. I confirmed that it was a new building when I found the advertisement from 10 May 1911 where “Tenders are invited for the erection and completion of large brick hall in Morehead-street, Lambton, for Mr George Smith.”

Other halls

Lambton has had a large number of different halls, theatres, and entertainment venues over the years. Some of the halls were associated with hotels, and often the hall was named after the hotelier at the time. Consequently the same hall could be referred to by many different names over the years. To help keep track of the different halls I have created a spreadsheet with references to relevant newspaper articles. Note that this is a work in progress, and not a definitive list.

Star Theatre

The Star Theatre was used for many different purposes. The following list is a sample of the kinds of events held there.

  • 3 May 1892 – Drama
  • 8 June 1892 – comedy, music, dancing, and phrenology!
  • 25 June 1892 – Anniversary service and public tea for the Lay Methodist Sabbath School
  • 25 July 1892 – Political meetings, on this occasion an address by George Houston Reid, then leader of the NSW opposition, who later became Premier of NSW (1894-1899) and Prime Minister of Australia (1904-1905).
  • 30 July 1892 – Benefit concert, to aid an invalid miner.
  • 17 December 1892 – Lecture – “The Story of C. H. Spurgeon.”
  • 26 August 1893 – Church of England social.
  • 5 June 1897 – Wakely’s Cinematograph
  • 14 September 1897 – Photographic exhibition by Herr Gustav Paul
  • 28 October 1898 – Spiritualism and Clairvoyance
  • 16 February 1899 – “Chippeway” the Indian Healer – Lectures and Public Cures.
  • 30 June 1899 – wedding reception.
  • 10 November 1899 – meeting of Lambton ratepayers
  • 26 February 1900 – “CAPTAIN JOHN RUSSELL, the world renowned Explorer, will give one of his popular and amusing Entertainments, illustrated by one of the most powerful Syopticans in the world.” (A sciopticon was also known as a magic lantern.)

The Victoria Hall

For reasons of space and simplicity, one detail I omitted from the published article was what was built on the site of the Star Theatre in 1909. An article from 7 June 1890 reported on a dance to celebrate the opening of the Victoria Hall.

The hall is a neat structure, and is erected on the site of the old Star Theatre at the corner of Morehead and De Vitre streets. It occupies a floor space of 50ft by 24ft., with a stage on the western end. Ventilation has been well arranged, and with high walls the sounding propensities are good. Mr. J. Hutton was congratulated on his enterprise.

For the next year, there are a few references to this hall, until a final mention on 21 July 1910. What happened to this hall is unknown. As is often the case in researching local history, as one mystery is solved, another rises in its place.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
10 Aug 1888"Two of our enterprising townsmen are about to erect large skating rinks. Mr. N. Elliott's, in Morehead-street, when complete will be about 50 x 50, and will certainly surpass any building for size in the town." (There is no evidence that the second rink, planned to be erected by Mr Cairns, was ever built.)
14 Aug 1888First mention of the Crriterion skatin rink by name. In an advertisement: "CRITERION SKATING RINK, Lambton.-Skating Match between two local amateurs will take place TO-NIGHT; £5 stakes, and half-mile race."
24 Jan 1889In a council meeting … "Alderman PALMER asked who supervised the repairs to the end of De Vitre-street, near the skating rink ?"
3 May 1892
3 May 1892
Opening of Mr. ELLIOTT'S STAR THEATRE, Lambton, with a performance by Sample's Dramatic Company of the Great Romantic Hunter River Drama, entitled "The Dagworth Mystery, and Anthony's Dream."
3 May 1892"Mr. Elliott, the proprietor of the Criterion Skating Rink, has decided to make a change in his building, which deserves special mention. A stage has been fitted up with the necessary appliances added, also the floor covered with commodious forms, and additional electric lamps have been arranged suitably, which gives the building quite a changed and taking appearance. It now bears the name of the Star Theatre."
23 Nov 1893In a council meeting … "Alderman Conn called attention to bad state of the kerbing between his shop and the Star Theatre."
21 Jun 1894In a council meeting … "Alderman Coleman called attention to the bad state of the footpath from the Star Theatre to the Prince of Wales Hotel."
2 Mar 1901The last time the Star Theatre is mentioned in an advertisement.
18 Feb 1903"For Absolute Sale. LAMBTON. A Very Comfortable 6-Roomed Cottage, Fronting Morehead and De Vitre Streets, near the Star Theatre." This house was on the north west corner of the intersection.
23 Oct 1903"The old Star Theatre has become very much delapidated, and, since the demolition of the Music Hall, the suburb stands in need of a large hall."
9 Jan 1905
7 Jan 1905
Last mention of the Star Theatre being used. (For a miners' meeting.)
24 May 1906At a council meeting … "Alderman Burg suggested that the attention of the owners be drawn to the dilapidated condition of the building in Morehead-street, known as the Star Theatre."
12 Sep 1906At a council meeting … "Dr. Dick also advised that the owners of the old Star Theatre be requested to make certain repairs to the building."
7 Jun 1909
4 Jun 1909
"A dance to celebrate the opening of the Victoria Hall, Lambton, was held on Friday evening. The hall is a neat structure, and is erected on the site of the old Star Theatre at the corner of Morehead and De Vitre streets."
21 Jul 1910
20 Jul 1910
Last mention of the Victoria Hall in Lambon.
10 May 1911"TENDERS are invited for the ERECTION and COMPLETION of LARGE BRICK HALL, in Morehead-street, Lambton, for Mr. George Smith."
25 Oct 1911"The Coronation Hall, Lambton (near tram terminus), will shortly be opened as the Adelphi Picture Palace, under the direction of the lessees, Messrs. A. F. Ralph and Son. There will be seating for 600 to 700 persons. Provision is also made to enable a large picture to be produced by a powerful electric plant and cinematograph."
25 Dec 1911
23 Dec 1911
"There was a fairly large and appreciative audience at the Coronation Hall at the opening of Ralph's Adelphi Pictures on Saturday evening."
23 Mar 1912
20 May 1912
"A social was tendered to Mr. H. J. Noble by his relatives and Lambton friends on Wednesday evening in Smith's Coronation Hall, as a send-off prior to his departure for Bowral."
25 Jun 1921Report on the jubilee of Lambton Council. "Until the erection of the Coronation Hall, the principal places of amusement were the music hall and the Star Theatre, which were demolished many years ago."
19 May 1925"SKATING To-day and To-night. Coronation Hall, Morehead-st., Lambton. Good skates, good floor, good music."
15 Jun 1925"SKATING CARNIVAL, Plain, Fancy, Comic, and Poster Dress. At the Coronation Skating Rink."
23 Jun 1925"Success attended the skating carnival which was held in the Lambton Skating Rink, in Morehead-street."
16 Jul 1930Last mention of roller skating in the Coronation Hall.
14 Jul 1937First mention of Coronation Café.
25 Jun 1938"Messrs. Castleden and Sara invite tenders for repairs and alterations to the Coronation Theatre, at Lambton."
12 Jul 1938Last mention of Coronation Hall.
17 Jan 1939
16 Jan 1939
"The remodelled Lambton Theatre was opened last night by Mr. L. J. Copeland. A big crowd was present for the first screening in the building since it was closed some months ago for alterations. The building shows a tasteful use of the modern architectural style without unnecessary adornment."